By KIERAN FINNANE
Much-loved Alice Springs artist Iain Campbell has died. There will be no more paintings of this place from his penetrating yet warm and humorous eye, from his skilled, well-trained hand.
The Scottish-born and raised artist, who arrived in town in 1975, leaves behind an incomparable body of work, for no other has fixed their gaze so persistently on the modern town of Alice and on how its settler population lives within it.
Happily, it is not so long (2014) since we had the chance at the Araluen Arts Centre to appreciate a retrospective of his work, ranging across four decades.
Right: Iain Campbell, Artist Dreaming, 2001.
Iain was a fine portrait painter, of himself and others; some were acquaintances, others were dear friends; we saw them grow old and some died; we saw a marriage end; dreams haunted by harsh memories of the past, by unsettling premonitions of the future. They gave way to the consolation and optimism of a new love. And with retirement, the workplace (another favoured, unusual subject) ceded to the pleasure of the home studio.
We saw and remembered through his renderings the places of his Alice Springs that came and went, or got remodelled, transformed – the waterslide, Araluen, Witchetty’s, the Todd Tavern, the Memo Club, the old airport.
Even bricks and mortar can slip through our fingers. Iain opened our eyes to a kind of beauty and emotion in our everyday urban vistas and their life cycles.
His vocation as an artist endured. He painted himself napping beneath his jars of paintbrushes. His past works visited him like old friends.
Last year he commenced a major new series, looking back on key episodes of his life. He was painting with all the energy and mastery of old. A central work in this series was completed in time for the Central Australian Art Society’s annual award exhibition, in which it was a category winner.
Titled Lost Works, it showed the artist as an old man standing in the doorway of a room he once lodged in as a young artist in Glasgow. He looks in on the figure of that young man, who looks out at us, brush dangling in his left hand, with all the unknowingness of a man setting out in the world.
He could not have foretold where he would spend the greater part of his adult life, in a small town in the middle of a big country on the other side of the globe. Nor could he have seen foreseen the works that would arise from what he found in life there.
Iain will be deeply missed, by those closest to him most sorely, and by Alice Springs, his home town and, to our great fortune, longtime muse and final resting place.
Below: Iain Campbell, Witchetty’s, 1994.
RELATED READING and more images:
Iain Campbell: reflections on an artist’s life and times by MIKE GILLAM